The Derby Scheme: encouraging men to join the army

Recruitment letter from Lieutenant Douglas Boyd in Hull. Generic letters like this were sent to men who had told a canvasser that they were willing to enlist. © Hull Museums

The ‘Derby Scheme’ was named after Edward Stanley, the 17th Earl of Derby, who Lord Kitchener appointed as his Director General of Recruiting on 11 October. Its official title was the Group Scheme. The scheme was designed to encourage as many men as possible to volunteer for the armed forces to avoid the need for conscription.

Under the Derby scheme, all men aged between 18 and 41 (apart from those employed in essential occupations) were required to make a public declaration that they were willing to enlist. Once they had done so, they had to go to the recruiting office within 48 hours. They could either join up then for immediate service or defer until a later date. Canvassers visited men at their homes to encourage them to enlist.

In Hull, men who told a canvasser that they were willing to enlist would have received a letter from Lieutenant Douglas Boyd at the Central Recruiting Office reminding them of their ‘honourable obligation’

The Derby scheme was seen as a failure. Despite the canvassers’ efforts, 38% of single men and 54% of married men still avoided joining the armed forces. This informed the Government’s decision to introduce conscription in early 1916.

Learning resources

For downloadable images, teaching notes and activity ideas about recruitment and propaganda in the Humber region please see